Springsteen the Politico
Before I even say anything else, just listen to perhaps his most well-known artwork. You’re probably saying, “Artwork? But this is just a song.” Trust me, there’s much more to it.
Now, I know the undertones of this piece are quite noticeable to the trained listener, and I’m certainly not the first to talk about the message here, but it still bears repeating.
First off, I give Bruce an “A” (for America) on the American Scale of Patriotism, Creationism, and Americanship (or ASPCA, for short) for his use of no less than seventeen “USA’s” in the lyrics. Never mind that the rest of the song completely contradicts that patriotic chorus, his constant declaration of his natural-born citizenship (“Born in the USA”) means that we can honestly say Bruce Springsteen is all-American.
But what is there to be said for that contrast I mentioned? The whole narrative of this song involves a man who’s sent off “to go and kill the yellow man”, or sent to Vietnam, in plain speak. He then returns home from war to find his job has vanished, the V.A. can’t help him, and eventually ends up with “nowhere to go”. And yet, he constantly incites that he was born in America, thus that he belongs to America.
So what does it all mean? This song, beyond its red, white, and blue shell, is really an exploration of the American Dream. Those who fought in World War II returned home to celebration, having saved the world from the Imperialist-Fascist menace, with such acts as the GI Bill creating new-found opportunities and a decade of prosperity. Being the only intact western-industrial power following the devastation of Europe and Asia allowed the US to experience two decades of continual growth.
The Vietnam veterans returned home to the end of that era, when stagnant wages and inflation were the new economic topics of debate, as opposed to the dilemma of “too much leisure time for workers”, the issue of the 60’s. As if this wasn’t telling enough, the first rumbles of foreign competition and economic contraction meant that manufacturers (the staple employers) were consolidating instead of adding new positions. Thus the protagonist has run out of options as he howls, “Born in the USA” one last time. No house, no family, mere survival is all he can seek.
Of course, it is a song, and is open to many different interpretations. I’m not saying you have to agree with me, but next time you hear this, or any song for that matter, listen closely. Look deeply, and you might be surprised at what you discover.